Remote Learning: Let's take the pressure off

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By Cassandra Barrett – Program Manager, Healthy Communities

Author note: the comments contained below are general suggestions only. As with all of our parenting resources: take what works for you and your family, and leave what doesn’t!

It’s official: Term 3 will see a return to remote learning for most young people in Victoria, and the responses from parents and carers are understandably mixed. For many families, juggling the responsibilities of work and caring alongside virtual home-schooling last time around proved extremely challenging; even distressing.

“The first lockdown was a nightmare,” said Leah. “My older kids were able to work fairly independently for the most part, but my Year 2 child really struggled. There were lots of arguments, nagging, yelling, and plenty of tears – from both of us! I found myself getting really frustrated, I was very impatient with him, it felt like we were barely making it through each day... It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. I actually felt sick when I heard the news that we’re back to remote learning for Term 3. My son and I are both dreading the next six weeks.”

Leah and her family aren’t alone; a quick look at any parent WhatsApp group reveals similar tales of woe. Who could forget the now-iconic viral rant from this Israeli mum!

Preliminary findings indicate that alcohol consumption amongst parents of school-aged children has increased significantly following the onset of COVID-19, and a third of parents surveyed linked their increased drinking to home learning. Parents of younger children, like Leah, are reporting the highest levels of pressure – and many are pledging that remote learning will be different this time around, planning a simpler and less stressful approach to studies.

“There’s no doubt that teachers and educators have made a phenomenal effort to engage their students in learning and to maintain that momentum – in fact, some families have reported that their child actually thrived in that environment. That’s particularly true for those who are very self-directed learners, or find themselves easily distracted in the classroom environment, or have additional needs like social anxiety,” said Marilyn Kraner, Manager of Individual and Family Services at Jewish Care.

“However for others it has been a real struggle – and can come at the expense of the child’s emotional health, or overall harmony within the household.”

Educational development is undoubtedly important – but how best to balance learning needs with the child or family’s wellbeing?

“Take the pressure off,” advised one classroom teacher. “In the overall scheme of things, this is a brief period in your child’s education. It may feel overwhelming right now, but they will catch up – and they will be better able to do so if they are happy, secure, and, most importantly, feel positively towards learning. It’s okay if things aren’t perfect, or tasks aren’t completed exactly as instructed. It’s okay to find your own ways to learn that are joyful and engaging.”

It’s an ambitious goal easier said than done for many families. The fear that a child will fall behind academically is real and understandable, especially for children who were already experiencing difficulties pre-COVID or who have additional needs. However, with many children experiencing feelings of distress, uncertainty, anxiety or fear in response to coronavirus, coupled with the disruption to routine and loss of social connection, emotional wellbeing needs to be a priority.

For parents and children alike, the move to relax the standards around home schooling comes, for many, as an enormous relief – and in fact, may even benefit learning. “In order to learn effectively, first and foremost children need to feel safe and secure,” said Dr. Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation.
“I don’t know how much he was actually learning anyway,” confides Leah. “We were pushing ourselves so hard to try and complete the set tasks, but he was so disengaged and frustrated by the process that I doubt he took much in.”

For families who would like some extra support with remote learning, Jewish Care has a number of trained volunteers who are willing to share their expertise. The Education Support Program has had some fantastic success since its establishment at the onset of COVID-19, from science tutoring to musical instrument practice to help with home readers. For further information, contact the Volunteer Department on 8517 5777.

Jewish Care is committed to safeguarding children from harm. All volunteers who provide education support hold a current Police and Working with Children Check and have completed the Australian Childhood Foundation Safeguarding Children online training.

We asked parents: what are your best tips for learning at home?

  • Maintain routine/consistency as much as possible, while still allowing some flexibility
  • If a task is particularly troublesome, give it a break and come back to it later
  • Balance less preferred subjects with fun/reward activities
  • Differentiate between the “vital” and the “nice-to-have”. It’s okay to let some things slide
  • Practice numeracy skills at home – set a budget and get your child to go “shopping” in the supermarket catalogue, or challenge your child to halve or double a recipe to practice fractions
  • Watch a documentary together and discuss it, or take a look at your local museum, zoo or aquarium for educational livestream programs
  • Try a literacy scavenger hunt. Set a time limit and run around the house/backyard collecting one item that begins with the letter A, the letter B, C, D…
  • Set a challenge: try a Masterchef-style mystery box, or build a tall structure out of recycling
  • Write a story together or encourage your child to keep a COVID-19 journal that documents their experiences
  • Practice research skills: ask your child to find 10 fun facts about a place/animal/item, and then present them to the family
  • If all else fails: read, read, read
  • Be kind to yourself! We are only human.